07/15/2011 2:12PM

Hollywood Park to pay retroactive 7 percent purse hike


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Hollywood Park will pay a retroactive purse increase of approximately 7 percent to owners whose horses earned prize money from April 23 to June 26 as a result of better-than-expected business during the spring-summer meeting, track president Jack Leibau said Friday.

Liebau projects that Hollywood Park will end the meeting Sunday with an average all-sources handle down approximately 3 percent over the corresponding meeting in 2010. From Southern California sources, Liebau said ontrack and inter-track wagering was down only 1 percent.

The track had projected a more severe decline in business this year after a drop in handle at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, a dull economy, and a boycott from bettors angered that takeout rates for exotic wagers were increased in the state at the beginning of the year.

“I have to admit that personally I had low expectations,” Liebau said. “Looking at the economy in general, with 12 percent unemployment [in California], and we were threatened with this boycott, all of these things resulted in me having low expectations.

“As things have turned out, it has been much better than I hoped. It’s not good when you say you’re down. Based on my expectations, it’s pretty much a success.”

Liebau said that Hollywood Park will ask for racing dates later this year for two race meetings in 2012 and likely beyond that. The track’s parent company, Stockbridge Capital Group, has received zoning approvals to develop the Hollywood Park property but has not moved forward on development because of a poor real estate market. Liebau said the track is considering making improvements to the grandstand this year, an indication that racing will continue for the foreseeable future.

“We’ll be definitely asking for dates for 2012,” he said. “My instructions are to continue to run Holllywood Park on the basis that racing will be here indefinitely. I think that racing in Southern California right now is better off with Hollywood Park being a racing venue than without it.”

The retroactive purse increase could be higher than 7 percent, depending on business this weekend. There is concern among track officials about the effect a two-day closure of a portion of the nearby 405 freeway on Saturday and Sunday will have on the ability of customers from the San Fernando Valley to reach the racetrack.

The retroactive purse increase is the second such increase in the last month. The track raised overnight purses 10 percent for the final three weeks of the meeting, effective June 30. Owners whose horses earn purses in the last three weeks of the meeting will not be entitled to the retroactive payment.

Before the meeting began, overnight purses were increased from 16 percent to 20 percent from 2010 levels because of legislation passed last year that raised the takeout on exotic wagers and dedicated the additional revenue to overnight purses.

Hollywood Park enacted a 50-cent pick five with a 14 percent takeout this meet, a bet that has proven to be quite popular. Through Thursday, a span of 51 racing days, the pick five has outhandled the pick six on 29 occasions. The pick-five pool has averaged $200,781, while the pick six, swelled by carryovers, has averaged $303,132.

“It seems to me that shows the wagering public was attracted to it because of the lower takeout and the lower entry fee,” Liebau said. The bet will be offered at the Hollywood Park fall meeting, pending discussions with the Thoroughbred Owners of California. Liebau said the bet is not a moneymaker for tracks.“The tragic part is that the tracks cannot afford to continue to offer such wagers when a disproportionate amount of the takeout goes to purses,” he said. “We need cooperation on the division of the takeout with the TOC. I would hope that the tracks would have continued discussions with the TOC with a more equitable distribution of revenue when there is a lower takeout.”